03/31 - Huge explosions rock Baghdad again - East Valley Tribune: Nation / World

03/31 - Huge explosions rock Baghdad again

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Posted: Sunday, March 30, 2003 11:49 pm | Updated: 12:59 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Huge explosions rocked central Baghdad late Monday, raising towering clouds of smoke in the heart of the capital and around the presidential Old Palace compound across the Tigris River.

It was not immediately clear what had been hit.

The Palestine Hotel, where many international journalists are staying, shook in one of the strongest blasts since the air war began March 20.

U.S. attempts to silence Iraqi television and radio through heavy aerial attacks have failed, with the country's information minister insisting the broadcasts were unaffected.

Despite repeated bombings of the Iraqi Information Ministry and Iraqi transmitters, the local media operation was "as good as it was before" the attacks earlier Monday, said Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf.

The minister said he and several colleagues helped put out the flames in the ministry, while technicians repaired damaged transmitters. The Americans had hoped to cut off television and radio transmissions to halt Iraqi propaganda.

Iraqi television was off for about three hours Monday morning before broadcasts resumed. At his Monday briefing, Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks of U.S. Central Command said damage to the transmission facilities meant the civilian population "did not see much of the regime at this time."

The loss of a local signal didn't affect Iraqi Satellite TV, which broadcasts 24 hours a day outside Iraq.

On Monday night, Iraqi television aired footage of Saddam Hussein with sons Odai and Qusai at a meeting of top military commanders. Saddam, who was chairing the meeting, was shown in military uniform, said Al-Arabiya television.

It was the first time Odai was shown on Iraqi TV since the U.S.-led war on Iraq began, Al-Arabiya said. There was no way of determining when the video was shot.

Al-Sahhaf condemned the Americans and the British as "saboteurs of the first rate who deserve nothing less than death." Al-Sahhaf's comments echoed those of Foreign Minister Naji Sabri, who warned earlier Monday that only surrender could save coalition troops from a "holocaust."

Al-Sahhaf also claimed that Iraqi fighters had killed 43 coalition soldiers on Sunday. The officials death count released by U.S. and British officials was 65 killed since the war began March 19.

"They deny and spread lies" about their casualties, the minister said. Sabri, meeting with reporters, echoed al-Sahhaf's confident tone.

"Every day that passes the United States and Britain are sinking deeper in the mud of defeat," Sabri said. "Those two states have no choice but to withdraw early and fast, today before tomorrow."

As he spoke at a news conference at the Palestine Hotel, a new air raid was reported in the Iraqi capital.

Nearly all of Baghdad's telephone lines appeared out in the city of 5 million after at least five telephone exchanges were struck by allied bombings. But the city's power supply remains intact and street lights came on at night.

Around midafternoon, a low-flying aircraft could be heard over central Baghdad and two explosions followed. The target was a site on the west bank of the Tigris River. A huge cloud of white smoke rose from the area, which houses many government departments, presidential compounds and other sensitive sites.

Earlier Monday, an armada of B-1, B-2 and B-52 bombers struck communication and command centers in Baghdad. The U.S. Central Command said it was the first time in history that long-range B-1s, B-2s and B-52s had carried out simultaneous attacks on the same location.

Cruise missiles set the Information Ministry ablaze in the second such attack on the building in two days. The fire, yards away from a shopping mall honoring Saddam's birthday, was put out after a half-hour.

The 10-story building remained standing. Windows were gone and the outside walls were damaged. Witnesses said the interior, especially on top floors, was severely damaged.

The coalition also bombed a telephone exchange in Baghdad, in the Bab al-Moazim district. The three-story building was heavily damaged, with wall sections gone, revealing mangled metal and destroyed furniture and computers. The exchange, which served 25,000 subscribers, was hit in the 1991 Gulf War and rebuilt.

Next door, a 10-story building housing the Baghdad Municipality administration appeared unscathed, its windows still in place.

Recorded calls of "God is great" from mosque minarets alerted Baghdad to another night of bombings late Sunday, followed by a huge explosion and streaks of anti-aircraft tracers.

In the past few nights, the mosque loudspeakers have been used to warn of air raids, with the all-clear signaled by another minaret announcement: "God is great, they are gone."

Coalition bombardments have focused recently on Republican Guard units protecting the approaches to Baghdad, to try to wear down Saddam's best-trained forces ahead of a U.S.-led ground assault on the capital.

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